If you’ve read an article about careers lately, chances are it included terms like “changing landscape” or “seismic shifts.” Healthcare, education, and many other industries are in upheaval due to significant changes involving everything from legislative policy to technological advancements. It’s no wonder even seasoned executives may feel as if they are stumbling across unsteady ground, their career paths not as clearly defined as before.
But it is possible to maintain steady footing, no matter how industry trends and career expectations shift. People who thrive in changing times ensure their own professional growth and the success of their organization by remaining agile, open to learning what is necessary to function in new terrain. It’s important to make oneself an indispensible part of your organization’s future. What follows are five ways to do so:
1. Understand the landscape. Keeping abreast of the latest industry trends is essential. Feeling “in the loop” will boost confidence and ease the inevitable anxiety that comes with change. Plus, staying up to date will provide insights into how your skills can best be utilized, and what new skills you may need to attain.
Schedule time each week to read industry publications and websites, as well as general news outlets and social networking groups (see #2). Apply what you’re learning within your organization to ensure its continued success and to demonstrate your capacity to evaluate and utilize new approaches.
Make a habit of sharing the knowledge you’ve gained. Write articles, make presentations, serve on panels, write a guest blog. Publicly sharing your expertise boosts the confidence others have in your ability to understand industry changes, and in your willingness to find new and creative solutions to problems.
2. Never travel alone. One of the best ways to keep up with the sometimes dizzying pace of industry change is to network with others in similar positions. Use sites such as LinkedIn to connect with executive peers and professional groups. Of course, nothing beats face-to-face networking when it comes to support and learning. Attend conferences or industry association meetings when possible. Within your organization, look for colleagues (even younger) from whom you might learn something new.
3. Learn survival skills. Think of attaining new skills as the key to your professional survival. Whether you need to master the latest software or comprehend complex legislation, gaining new competencies will ensure your continued relevancy.
The first step is to honestly assess your skills and knowledge base. Take a look at the past year: Where did you succeed? How could you have improved? Today’s executives are often expected to have a breadth of expertise, from finance to management skills. In which areas could you shore up your knowledge?
4. Stand out from the crowd. In most organizations, recognition for a job well done comes less often than deserved. That is particularly true in organizations that are stressed by uncertainty and change. Your CEO or colleagues may be too distracted by their own concerns to notice your successful efforts. Find opportunities to highlight your hard work, in particular when it involves utilizing a recently-learned skill or applying the industry knowledge you’ve gained.
At the same time, formal evaluations may be infrequent and therefore not as useful in a rapidly changing environment. Rather than wait for your annual review, regularly seek out input. Ask a few colleagues to provide you with an honest, constructive evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses, and use their feedback to create a plan for individual development. Your efforts will convey a desire to continually grow and develop as an executive.
5. Create new paths. In a changing environment, it’s natural to want to focus on what is already established. That’s especially true for job descriptions. Many executives gauge their success based on whether they fulfilled the job expectations laid out for them last year, or perhaps even several years ago.
But in order to prove yourself indispensable, executives must go above and beyond the job that was prescribed for them. When new projects or opportunities arise, offer your services, knowing that you can seek training or ask for help later. Even better, use your knowledge of industry trends to suggest new ways you can benefit the organization. Try to envision what your job description might look like next year, even if the future is uncertain, and plan a strategy on how you will meet those expectations.
Like travelers in a new land, today’s executives may find themselves trying to function in unfamiliar territory. It can be daunting, but it can also be an exhilarating opportunity to build skills, deepen expertise, and solidify your foothold in your organization’s future.
David Boggs is Practice Leader of WK Advisors, a division of the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, which offers mid-and senior-level executive search consulting services. He is based in Louisville, Ky. To follow the company on Twitter, click here.